It's about the women

Their oppression is the symbol of radical Islamic rule around the world.

iranian human rights activist 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
iranian human rights activist 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
It took the tragic killing of Neda Soltan in Iran for the world to realize that the lives - and deaths - of women are at the center of the struggle for human rights against religious extremism. The astounding protests taking place in Iran over the past week, since the fraudulent victory of Islamic extremist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Mir Hossein Mousavi, is really a story about women. According to an article in last weekend's Yediot Aharonot, written in collaboration with a journalist inside Iran, the protests were started not by supporters of Mousavi but rather by supporters of his wife Zahra Rahnavard. It was Rahnavard, a professor of art history, author of more than a dozen books on art, former government minister and former chancellor of Alzahra University in Teheran, who called for the protests when the altered results came in. (She and her husband were originally told that they won, and then several hours later the official announcement was changed.) The million protesters running to the streets calling for an end to radical Islamic rule in Iran came because of her not him. In fact, what you might not read in the media is that at the beginning, most of the protesters were women. WELL IT'S about time. Radical Islam is worse for women than for arguably any other group, except maybe for Jews. Women are the ones arrested in Iran for having an ankle showing or for wearing lipstick. After three such arrests, women go to prison. At the fourth arrest, they get a public lashing. For Ahmadinejad, the ideal woman is not only covered from head to toe, literally, but is not to be seen in public - ever. Iranians have no idea what his wife looks like because, as per his wishes, she is never seen. Ahmadinejad's vision of an ideal society is not just Israel-less but also women-less. I believe that women's oppression is the symbol of radical Islamic rule around the world. So now women are finally protesting in a way that the world can see and hear. And lots of men are joining as well. It took the leadership of a powerful woman to bring them out, but once the truth begins to emerge, there is no turning back. Rahnavard, educated, feminist and fearless, inspired them to believe in change. She is not only seen in public, but she speaks - loudly. Every once in a while she will even remove her chador in protest of the Islamic regime, just to make the point. She is her husband‚s political partner - they are even seen holding hands in public, which apparently makes Ahmadinejad fume. When Ahmadinejad was elected in 2006, she spoke out from her position as university president against his victory. "He hates women," she said from her pulpit. She was fired shortly thereafter. Geraldine Brooks, in her outstanding book Nine Parts of Desire about women and Islam, demonstrates unequivocally that radical Islam's fight against the world hinges on the role of women. The more their woman are covered, the more religious men claim to be (ahem, sounds familiar). What we are really watching in Iran is women taking to the streets, under the unofficial leadership of a woman, to challenge the dark, barbaric rule of radical Islam. THIS WHOLE situation is reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan. For years before 9/11, women's groups were circulating articles, e-mails and any kind of visible validation demonstrating the horror that women lived with under the Taliban. Stories of women professors being arrested if they left their homes, videos of women being shot in public stadiums for daring to have a job, petitions, statistics, testimonials - they all got around. Well, at least among women. Yet, despite the extreme suffering of women throughout Taliban rule, the United States did not intervene, nor did anyone else - that is, until 9/11 happened. When the Taliban attacked the United States, suddenly America woke up and unanimously said, "Hey, those Taliban! They‚re really bad! We should stop them!" Thousands, maybe millions of women had their lives destroyed or taken away before then, but that was of no interest or consequence. They're Muslim, after all, Afghani women. Okay, whatever, that's a shame, pass the salt. But once Americans were the targets - American men - suddenly Americans were ready to start a war. So now US President Barack Obama offers a position of noninvolvement. He doesn't want to interfere, he has said, in "internal" Iranian politics. He's like a police officer walking into an apartment where a man is beating his wife and saying, "It's between the two of you." When he does that, the aggressor smiles and the victim screams in horror. Victims need intervention - and aggressors want everyone to look the other way. That's why there is really no such thing as neutrality, especially not when a terrorist regime is systematically and brutally killing those who fight for human rights. Neutrality in the face of aggression by definition empowers the aggressor. The only ones to benefit from this false stance of neutrality are the brutal attackers. The victims - in this case, women - are crying out for help. It is quite telling that the new hero of this movement is a heroine - shot while watching from the side. The video of Neda Soltan horrifically bleeding out and dying is not the only element of the story to get people's attention. Also "before" and "after" photos of her - that is, before and after she was forced into religious subservience by Islamic law - are quite shocking, a transformation from free woman to imprisoned chattel. These photos tell the real story about what is going on in Iran. I hope the world cares enough to help bring about real change. i>The writer is a researcher, educator and activist.